My spiritual journey is very much an inward one with outward consequences. I have been a hard seeker after truth, and this has forced me to constantly physically move myself to more suitable and sustainable living conditions for this spiritual journey.
I believe truth is expansive, growing, and evolving.
Like the universe.
Therefore, I’m guessing, the truth pushes from the center, the light, and pulls from the frontier, the darkness. The draw of truth is, unlike gravity, outward.
I detect this process in my spiritual journey. Perhaps the gravity of truth, larger than the sun, is greater than the gravitational pull of my personal body of truth.
The truth that I know in the light pushes me outward from itself.
The truth that I don’t know in the darkness pulls me outward to itself.
Many of the Christian theology books I’ve read, in other words, have pushed me beyond where I was theologically. The authors may not have intended it, but their theology, in effect, was pushing me beyond my certainties out into the land of questions and darkness towards truth I did not yet know.
Let me share a few quick examples:
I’ve included a picture here of a devotional book that I used for many years during the last of my pastoral ministry, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Even though Chambers was devoutly and orthodoxly Christian, his rather esoteric writings had a way of pushing me beyond the tidy confines of popular Christianity and traditional theology. When I shared his thoughts with my congregation, many of them complained that he was just too smart and dark. The fact that he died at a young age in the deserts of Egypt with acute appendicitis didn’t help.
There was another book, Sit, Walk, Stand, by Watchman Nee. Now, Nee is considered the father of the shepherding movement, which I’m sure we can agree has its serious problems. I suppose it would be fair to say that he inspired a kind of controlling style of community. However, I read his small book while sitting on the shore of a remote lake in Nova Scotia. I remember the thought emerged in my mind, “It is finished!”, and it hit me with such theological force that it changed my life. Again, when I shared his thoughts with my church, they also found him too smart and dark. And the fact that he disappeared into a hard labour camp in China never to be heard from again didn’t help.
Oh! Then there was the novel, Silence, by the Japanese Catholic, Shusako Endo. When someone asks me if they should read it, I always warn them to handle with care, that this book in wrong or unprepared hands could be harmful. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s a story about the Portuguese Catholic priests who went as missionaries to Japan, who were captured, tortured, made to recant, and who suffered watching the churches they grew change into something that didn’t look like Christianity at all. It’s a very complex story based on history that explores religion, society, psychology, and theology. “Silence” refers to the silence of God through their whole experience. When I shared this story with my church, they found it unbearable dark and depressing. It didn’t help that many of those priests and their converts died in obscurity after publicly recanting their faith, never to return home again.
These kinds of books and their ideas pushed me beyond a neat and tidy belief system full of light. It might have worked for a while, but it didn’t anymore. They implicitly suggested to me that I didn’t have a handle on the truth and that I had to go further out. Even though I felt these books represented the light I was then living in, they were shining beyond into a darkness I was not yet aware of and was afraid to step into.
This is why I do not reject many of these kinds of books or ideas from those years. I believe they helped push me deeper into the darkness of mystery and truth. The books I read now, many of which are marginal Christian theologies or not remotely authorized Christian theologies, serve the same purpose.
Of course, at the same time, there were other books and ideas that were pulling me further out into darkness. These ideas cast their shadows over this little light of mine.
I will share these soon.
I hope this helps.